United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING AND ORDER
R. UNDERHILL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Prince sued her former attorney, Jefferson D. Jelly, and his
paralegal, Ruth Martin, for violation of her First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Jelly and Martin have moved to dismiss on the basis that they
are not “state actors” amenable to suit under
section 1983. I agree that Jelly and Martin did not act
“under color of law” and cannot be sued under
section 1983. Therefore, I dismiss Prince's complaint for
failure to state a claim.
Standard of Review
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is designed
“merely to assess the legal feasibility of a complaint,
not to assay the weight of evidence which might be offered in
support thereof.” Ryder Energy Distrib. Corp. v.
Merrill Lynch Commodities, 748 F.2d 774, 779 (2d Cir.
1984) (quoting Geisler v. Petrocelli, 616 F.2d 636,
639 (2d Cir. 1980)). When deciding a motion to dismiss, I
must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as
true, draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
plaintiffs, and decide whether it is plausible that
plaintiffs have a valid claim for relief. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007); Leeds v.
Meltz, 85 F.3d 51, 53 (2d Cir. 1996).
Twombly, “[f]actual allegations must be enough
to raise a right to relief above the speculative level,
” and assert a cause of action with enough heft to show
entitlement to relief and “enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 550
U.S. at 555, 570; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679
(“While legal conclusions can provide the framework of
a complaint, they must be supported by factual
allegations.”). The plausibility standard set forth in
Twombly and Iqbal obligates the plaintiff
to “provide the grounds of his entitlement to
relief” through more than “labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555
(quotation marks omitted). Plausibility at the pleading stage
is nonetheless distinct from probability, and “a
well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy
judge that actual proof of [the claims] is improbable, and .
. . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Id.
at 556 (quotation marks omitted).
Prince retained the Law Office of Jefferson D. Jelly, a
personal injury firm located in West Hartford, Connecticut,
in February or March of 2016 to represent her in connection
with injuries sustained in a car accident. See
Compl., Doc. No. 1, at 3. Prince was represented by Attorney
Jefferson D. Jelly and Paralegal Ruth Martin. Prince alleges
that Jelly and Martin took no action for months and ignored
her requests that the firm withdraw from its representation.
Id. After Prince contacted the Connecticut Statewide
Grievance Committee, Jelly and Martin “reluctantly
withdrew, ” but then “committed a series of
violations” in a “blatant act of
retaliation” against Prince. Id. Specifically,
Prince claims that Jelly and Martin “continued to
contact USAA Insurance . . . as if they represent[ed] a
client, . . . submitted several liens on [her] settlement,
” and “filed for a $2, 000.00 medical payment . .
. without justification.” Id. at 3-4.
August 1, 2017, Prince filed a complaint in this court under
42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Id. at 2. Prince asserts
that Jelly's and Martin's actions violated rights
protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the
United States Constitution. Id. at 3-4. She claims
$250, 000.00 in “compensatory and punitive
damages.” Id. at 5.
August 18, 2017, Jelly and Martin moved to dismiss. Mot.
Dismiss, Doc. No. 8. They principally contend that they are
not “state actors” and did not “act under
color of state law in providing private legal services”
to Prince. Id. Asserting that their “private
conduct is not subject to First Amendment and Fourteenth
Amendment challenges under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, ” the
defendants argue that Prince's complaint must be
the United States Constitution regulates only the Government,
not private parties, a litigant claiming that [her]
constitutional rights have been violated must first establish
that the challenged conduct constitutes state action.”
Fabrikant v. French, 691 F.3d 193, 206 (2d Cir.
2012). Thus, in order to state a claim under section 1983,
Prince must allege “both that [s]he has been deprived
‘of a right secured by the “Constitution and
laws” of the United States' and that the
defendant[s] acted ‘under color of any statute . . . of
any State.'” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co.,
457 U.S. 922, 931 (1982) (quoting Adickes v. S.H. Kress
& Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150 (1970)). “[A] person
acts under color of state law only when exercising power
‘possessed by virtue of state law and made possible
only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of
state law.'” Polk Cnty. v. Dodson, 454
U.S. 312, 317-18 (1981) (quoting United States v.
Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326 (1941)). Here, the defendants
are subject to suit under section 1983 only if they
“may fairly be said to be [ ] state actor[s], ”
such that their “allegedly unconstitutional conduct is
‘fairly attributable' to the state.”
Cranley v. Nat'l Life Ins. Co. of Vt., 318 F.3d
105, 111 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Am Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co.
v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 50 (1999)).
determination of whether the specific conduct of which the
plaintiff complains constitutes state action is a
‘necessarily fact-bound inquiry, '”
id. at 111-12 (quoting Brentwood Acad. v. Tenn.
Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass'n, 531 U.S. 288, 298
(2001)), and “there are a host of factors that can bear
on the fairness of an attribution of a challenged action to
the State.” Fabrikant, 691 F.3d at 207. For
example, “the actions of a nominally private entity are
attributable to the state” when:
(1) the entity acts pursuant to the coercive power of the
state or is controlled by the state (“the compulsion
(2) [ ] the state provides significant encouragement to the
entity, the entity is a willful participant in joint activity
with the state, or the entity's functions are entwined
with state policies (“the joint ...